Alma fertility drugs smart cooling case concept

Alma is our award-winning smart cooling case concept for injectable fertility drugs. It is testimony to how the initial stages of a design process can create huge potential opportunity for ambitious businesses. In this case, we identified a product opportunity by researching the very real but unmet needs of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) patients. The result illustrates that commercial value can await beyond available core technology.

Clinical and emotional insights

At the outset of the Alma project, we set out to investigate the IVF patient journey. The clinical and emotional insights we gained informed the development of the cooling case concept, and our objective to elevate the patient experience. The smart case itself is the centrepiece of a differentiated and creatively branded product ecosystem. It was created by a multidisciplinary team that drew on a range of capabilities spanning user experience (UX), human factors (HF) and industrial and graphic design.

Testing assumptions

Our work began with a period of desktop research and collaborative internal workshops. We tested our assumptions with experienced IVF clinicians, before talking to patients coping with the ordeal of fertility treatment. In those interviews, women told us of the enormous impact the IVF process has on their lives – and the negative effect it can have on their mental wellbeing. Often, we discovered, patients felt exploited and socially isolated.

Patient needs are paramount

It is a point of pride for the team that the needs of patients were kept at the centre of the project vision from start to finish. Many described the dispiriting routine of appointments every few days, and injections at the same time every day. One patient even explained that she stopped going out in the evenings or at weekends during the periods she had to self-inject. All this anxiety, we found, was exacerbated by the stress and uncertainty over treatment outcomes.

The challenge

Autonomy and control

Among the key challenges we confronted were our own assumptions. We had expected the physical pain of clinical procedures, especially injections, to be the most obvious ‘pain point’. On the contrary, many described this as one of the few parts of the process that gives them some semblance of control. It makes them feel directly involved with the treatment. An injection is a relief from the ‘waiting game’ that characterises the rest of the journey. All this underlined the importance of giving patients autonomy, flexibility and control – vital themes that had a fundamental influence on the Alma concept.

Sensitive and appropriate

Another hurdle was making sure interactions with patients were sensitive and appropriate. To that end, an IVF workflow map was created to act as a crucial conversation tool to validate assumptions during the stakeholder interviews. With one eye on the sensitivity of the patient interviews, the content and tone of the workflow was carefully reviewed with colleagues experienced in IVF and iterated. Clinicians were asked to ensure accuracy and check sensitivity of the material before talking to patients. Everything presented to patients was reviewed for tone and appropriateness.

Complex pathway

There is no IVF journey template. The complex pathway, either in a clinical environment or at home, can lead to a multitude of outcomes. This matrix of repeated actions with different variations was something the team had to master to understand and inform the design successfully. To make sense of assumptions workshops were organised, utilising modern collaboration tools, empathy maps and personas. This immersive process was crucial in successfully visualising the real needs that had to be met.

Patient-centric solution

Inspired by the women’s insights, the team was led towards a patient-centric solution rather than a more clinically focused concept as it took on the challenge of the IVF regime. As well as having to be injected at set times, fertility drugs must be stored under specific temperature conditions, making them difficult to carry discreetly. Some have paraphernalia associated with them, adding to the problem of privacy. Faced with these constraints, patients may choose to forego social plans rather than risking the efficacy of their treatment, at a time when they may already feel isolated.

Discreet and personal

Alma is designed to give patients back their freedom. The smart cooling case that controls the temperature of pre-filled syringes ensures the drugs retain optimal potency for a greater chance of IVF success. It is discreet and personal, with a non-obtrusive contemporary design aesthetic that sits well alongside the various devices and personal belongings most of us carry around. These features remove the necessity to inject at home, allowing patients to continue with their normal lifestyle.

Easing the burden

The patients benefit from a supportive ecosystem thanks to Alma Care, the companion app that guides them through their IVF treatment. It offers control and support through reminders, journey tracking and a connection to a wider patient community. The burden of remembering and preparing injections is lifted from the patient.

Automating the experience

To overcome the potential barrier of compliance, the system had to be intuitive, and able to cleverly automate the experience for the user. Alma looks up the recommended storage information for the medication and adapts the storage temperature of the case. This reassures patients that their treatment is optimised. A large storage section in the case keeps syringes cool, while the next injection waits ready in a smaller section. Here, it is readied automatically to the correct temperature for a time chosen by the patient. An integrated needle cutter removes the need to carry a bulky sharps container.

International recognition

The Alma smart cooling case concept has received international recognition by winning one of the coveted iF DESIGN AWARDS. We have created an ecosystem that helps patients remember and easily prepare their injections – and responds to emotional concerns to give them back freedom and control over their lives. As an example of user-centred design, our approach has implications for any company seeking to find value beyond core technology. These benefits are not confined to women’s health.

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